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The Big Bird, 625 Main Street: 1990s   31 comments

Posted at 8:13 pm in historic,landmark,restaurants

I did a post on University Corner and the changes there. One of the biggest changes was the passing of The Big Bird.

To be honest, I only went there a few times myself. Yes, I lived in The Towers, but I was on the University meal coupon (later meal card) system, so I always ended up eating at Russell House, Capstone or one of the other "company store" places on campus. The few times I did go, it seemed like quite an interesting place, with burgers, a cafeteria-like line with meats and vegetables, and some sort of game room in the downstairs part of the split-level building. The eponymous "Big Bird" was, of course, a Gamecock, and I doubt they got much business beyond college students.

I'm not sure exactly what happened to The Big BIrd -- businesses have always come and gone in University Corner, but it seemed like an institution. The actual address, 625 Main Street is now occupied by Moe's, but it seems to me that The Big Bird was gone for a good while before that happened.

UPDATE 3 Oct 08: Added two pictures of the Moe's currently at the old Big Bird location.

UPDATE 22 Jan 09: Added a picture of the old Big Bird sign from commenter Terry, who
writes:

The Big Bird sign has been stored at this sign shop in Hopkins for some time now. I'm not sure why they hang on to it.

UPDATE 27 December 2012: Corespondent wblood1 sends this 1980 picture of The Big Bird:

Notice also, the old 7-11 to the left of it and Stuffy's to the right.

Written by ted on September 12th, 2008

31 Responses to 'The Big Bird, 625 Main Street: 1990s'

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  1. I miss the Big Bird tremendously. The downstairs was tiny, had one pool table, but best of all - cheap pitchers.

    Ironchef

    15 Sep 08 at 7:47 am

  2. Some of the best burgers I ever ate in Columbia were at the Big Bird, and I wish I had all the money i spent below on pitchers of beer. (They also had a great jukebox downstairs too for a while.)

    What is really sad about it passing is that it was when I was at USC, about the only true, "local/collegate" place within walking distance of the school.

    Tom

    18 Sep 08 at 10:38 am

  3. There was nothing better after a night of drinking than a Big Bird Chili Cheesburger basket at 3 a.m. I'm surprised I'm still alive today.

    Jim

    3 Oct 08 at 3:45 pm

  4. Ted
    I took a photo of the Big Bird sign last week. How do I insert it in this blog?

    Terry Edwards

    21 Jan 09 at 7:13 am

  5. If you have it uploaded somewhere, just use the HTML "img src =" command here in a comment. If not, email it to me a "closings" at "columbiaclosings.com", and I'll put it in as an update.

    ted

    21 Jan 09 at 12:06 pm

  6. As I remember, the "Big Bird" was located to the right of Moe's. As a USC student living in the Towers (Douglas) frequent visits were made to this institution of Towers dining. In reality University Corner was slummy; but on a hot Friday afternoon there was nothing like the DSP for an ice cold happy hour cool one ! I would say they both closed in the late 70's.

    Paul

    9 Dec 09 at 3:15 pm

  7. I agree with Paul on this, The Big Bird was in the shop immediately to the right of Moe's. Not sure how Moe's got that address but it's not the same physical address as The Big Bird.

    Michael Taylor

    9 Dec 09 at 6:03 pm

  8. I thought Stuffy's was fight next to Moe's.

    Moe's is the old Pizza Hut, right?

    jamie

    10 Dec 09 at 8:49 am

  9. Paul is absolutely right, the DSP was slightly to the right of where Moe's is located, and flush with the rest of the center. Of course who can forget Frank, the great bartender at the Downstairs Plaza who had a great touch serving the Schlitz draught beers. To this day I am a Schlitz man, having been weaned by Frank. Also, the fully loaded burgers and the "BIRD TEA", the sweet tea served by Joe, the chief cook and bottlewasher. MLJ Pizza was located to the right of The Bird in the mid-70's, a free standing Pizza Hut was to the left, and of course Patrones has anchored the strip center for many years.

    Tin Man

    10 Dec 09 at 9:34 am

  10. Tinman, correctamundo on Frank @ the DSP. Remember saying to him "boy, that's a cold beer!" and he would reply "well what other kind to you want?" It must of been the DSP's subterrainean location. Also, Moe's was not the old Pizza Hut. PH was a free standing building closer to Blossom Street. If you lived in the Towers in the 70's you knew that Tuesday night was 2 for 1 at PH.

    Paul

    10 Dec 09 at 12:03 pm

  11. In 1975 when I was a freshmen, I remember from right to left in the storefront strip immediately to the right of the current location for Moe's: a laundry on the corner, Mauro's Pizza (had two friends who worked here and it was the first place I ever had a calzone [1976] and it didn't cost me a cent; the guy who owned it was a hard working Italian guy from New York and was the real thing), then I'm vague about the store to the left of Mauro's, and lastly we have The Big Bird. This is how I remember the strip. The next blank for me is just exactly what was in Moe's place all those years ago? A photograph from that era would solve the whole thing.

    Michael Taylor

    10 Dec 09 at 5:38 pm

  12. The Pizza Hut was the coldest one I have ever been in. I think they wanted a quick turnover. There was also a 7-11 or whatever quick-mart type store had "Big Gulp" drinks freestanding there as well.

    ted

    10 Dec 09 at 5:47 pm

  13. When I was at USC in the mid-1970s, I had some of the best times in the DSP (DownStairs Plaza - this was before Digital Signal Processing) with the electrical engineering students.

    On Fridays at lunch time Pat Sifford, Cindy Barbie (sp?), Alison Estes, and I would 'reserve' a table for the Fluid Seminar (scheduled for 4:00pm) by eating lunch there and getting pitchers.

    The best Fluid Seminar was called "Non-linear Time Dependent Fluid Instability in Cylindrical Containers" (complete with charts and equations) which was all about how you were more likely to knock your beer over as the night went on. Dr. Stevens was one of the regulars and I believe Dr. RG Fellers showed up more than once.

    The routine was to stay at DSP until sometime between 10pm and midnight, go to Group Therapy until 2:00a, go to Fisher's Video Bar until 4:00a, then go to Little O's until 8:00a, and then have breakfast at Eat's on Devine. Hey, a solid 20 hours of beer drinking never hurt any *real* engineering student!

    Does anyone else know that the guy who made the sandwiches upstairs was really named "Vasco da Gama"? He went by something 'American' usually and it would really surprise him if you knew his real name.

    Peter Hoffman

    9 Jan 10 at 10:57 pm

  14. I seem to remember that the Big Bird occupied what is now the 2 storefronts north of Moe's...the right side had the food prep area and the left side was seating and the pinball machines. Then at some point in the '80s the Big Bird moved into the Moe's building and subdivided their old site--one occupant being Stuffy's Subs.

    Mike

    10 Jan 10 at 8:27 am

  15. Mike - believe me the location of the Big Bird has been a source of debate for some time now. I recall that the Bird had parking in front of the store, which is now absent in front of Moes. On the other hand the Bird was very close to directly across Main from Douglas Dorm, which would coincide with Moe's location. In the mid 70's you would line up along the right wall and approach the steam table which essentially split the room. Kitchen and prep in back and seating in the front. Joe Spilcek (sp?) is the name the main server/manager went by and he worked there with his wife. Susan Mayes claims that she went into Moes and they showed her where the old stairs used to lead down to the DSP. It has since been covered. This would tend to support the theory that Moe's is located in at least portion of the old Bird location. I have looked at an old black and white aerial image on terraserver-usa.com that shows the area when the six towers were still standing, but it is a little grainy and inconclusive about the Bird's location.
    Anybody else want to share a recollection? Maybe we can settle this once and for all.

    tinman

    11 Jan 10 at 6:26 pm

  16. Tinman- maybe you could find "Tom", he'll know; if you're lucky, he'll have a small piece of "Bird" fried chiken for you !

    Paul

    11 Jan 10 at 11:11 pm

  17. If I remember right - the Moe's sits now where the 7-11 was, and the Big Bird was immediately to the right (as you looked toward the Coliseum). Another great little place in that strip was Pappy's in the mid 80's - it was immediately to the left of the Pizza Hut, which was just to the left of the 7-11 (three doors to the left of, or south of, the Big Bird).

    Pappy's was notorious for busting underage drinkers - anytime Pappy got an ID he thought was fake, he would grab an enormous metal bowl and a metal service spoon, and rattle the inside of the bowl with the spoon so that whole bar was alerted to what was about to happen.

    Naturally, this generated a great outpouring of cheers and catcalls. The entire bar would be watching as Pappy would then ceremoniously slice the ID in half, hand the non-picture side back to its hapless owner, and pin the picture side of the ID to a clothesline strung along each wall of the bar. By the time I started hanging out there in 1985, there were multiple full clotheslines on each wall.

    PsAustrinus

    28 Jan 10 at 3:19 pm

  18. I can say that DSP, Stuffy's, Pappy's, the 7-11 and the Big Bird - along with the pool hall around the corner - were all in operation as late as 1986. Stuffy's was the store to the right of the Bird and a coin laundry was next to that.

    PsAustrinus

    28 Jan 10 at 3:27 pm

  19. Pappy's was a building on the corner of Blossom & Main that has since been torn down. It was a little mini-mall, and had at one time some sort of textbook/gamecock-memoribilia store and Robo's Video Arcade as well as Pappy's.

    ted

    28 Jan 10 at 4:35 pm

  20. I think I'm the only person who remembers a sub sandwich place called Dub's that was on the corner of Greene & Assembly, where Wendy's is now. The building was a gas station converted to restaurant in the most minimal way. It had wooden picnic tables on the cement floor where the mechanics bays had been.

    I was a student at USC and got a summer job on the crew that did the work on it, then was hired by the owner to work there. This would be about 1977. Jim Sloan was the owner, and was doing this as a sideline while he taught economics at USC.

    The food was great. He was fanatic about having fresh baked bread from Cribb's Bakery, and the best cold cuts etc. You also got plenty of it -- He named it Dub's as in "double the meat" in the subs. He advertised "the coldest beer in town" and had a big thermometer in the old fashioned cooler. He also had Pearl and some other hard to find (in the 70s) beer.

    The drinking age was 18 and I think he thought he had created the perfect daytime student oasis. Instead he got a regular crowd of old men who came for the braunschweiger and other hard to find deli stuff. I think the place was about 100 steps too far for the students to embrace it. They had to walk past all the above mentioned places and The Winner's Circle to get there. Dub's lasted about two years.

    Dennis

    29 Jan 10 at 9:08 am

  21. I never when there but I do remember Dubs

    Mr Bill

    1 Feb 10 at 9:20 am

  22. Brantley's Meat market was in there somewhere. I think it was between Pizza Hut and the building Big Bird housed.

    I remember Big Bird well. Great Gyro's and great Fried (Broasted) chicken.

    I was at USC from '76-'80

    Ron

    11 Feb 10 at 11:09 am

  23. I remember the Big Bird being in the current Moe's location in the early to mid 1990s. I spent a good bit of time at Mauro's pizza in those days... although Mauro had sold it to another guy. Can't remember his name... Joe something. Anyhow, you couldn't beat the less than $3 slice and drink afternoon special. At some point the Big Bird closed, and Mauros moved there for a short while... calling it Mauro's Big Bird. This lasted for about six months before the place went belly up. They tried to go too big too fast, Joe hired a manager, and the whole thing went to crap very quickly. This guy tried such great ideas as the "buffet clean-up special" after 2:00, where you could pay a low price to come eat the left over stuff from the lunch crowd. Pretty sure the Lasagna was Stouffers. It was a real shame.

    A year later - would have been about 1996 - the old Mauro's pizza location got it's oven back from the Big Bird, and a place called Pizza by Darren opened. Darren was the son of the guy who owned Carolina's book store, and made a mean pizza and even better Calzone. Unfortunately he opened in the spring and couldn't survive the summer slump.

    Heath

    29 Apr 11 at 11:48 am

  24. Brantley's Meats was south of Pizza Hut which was south of the convenience store (7-11, later Circle K).

    I remember Dubs--it opened early in the "sub" rush in the '70s.

    It seems to me that the location that Moe's is in now was another pool hall (not the one on Devine St.). This would have been in the early '70s.

    Mike

    29 Apr 11 at 10:05 pm

  25. I think all this reminiscing is great. I was in college in the mid 80s, and it certainly wasn't at USC, so I can't speak about these places. But I do think it's funny that the phone book ad ted posted has the big ole gamecock on it, and right below "Try our specialty-fried chicken"! I'll bet nobody else thinks it"s as funny as I do, but come on, isn't it? :)

    JBL

    22 Jun 11 at 10:02 pm

  26. When I was in Columbia in 2008, an employee of Moe's allowed me to step into their lower level from the rear parking lot (the Moe's storage room was formerly the Downstairs Plaza). The stairsteps which connected the Big Bird and the DSP were still in place, covered in boxes. The opening at the top of the stairs was sealed shut to accomodate several booths in the Moe's restaurant.

    Susan Baldwin Mayes

    29 Jan 12 at 12:47 am

  27. That Big Bird sign features the pre-Paul Dietzel USC logo which had a frontal view of the Gamecock as opposed to the side view they now use.

    Tom

    29 Jan 12 at 10:10 am

  28. I started at USC in 1998 and lived at the Towers. I recall the Big Bird being there at that time so it must have closed after that. The Pizza Hut was there and the gas station was there at that time too. I recall hearing the gas station getting shot up a few times while I lived at the Towers.

    Justin

    19 Jun 12 at 9:50 am

  29. That photograph of the Bird is fantastic. It certainly debuffs some of our memories of where the Big Bird actually was. I did recall it was almost directly across from Douglas dorm, and the photo shows the wall between Douglas and the sidewalk. The phot must be from prior to 1972. Fried chicken and sweet "Bird" tea was a terrific combo for broke college students saving a few bucks to spend on Schlitz draft at the underlying Downstairs Plaza.

    tinman

    16 Jan 13 at 6:19 pm

  30. Photo is from Fall 1977 at the earliest. I see a 2nd gen Celica hatchback at the extreme right that started that generation as a 78 model.

    Also a Mustang II and a 1st gen Celica in front of (I think) Stuffy's, a GM H-body (looks like a Starfire or a Buick Skyhawk) that looks to be a 77-78 model.

    tonkatoy

    17 Jan 13 at 7:37 am

  31. the Bird had the best fried chicken. cooked in a pressure cooker.

    I remember going to DSP and getting Michelob Dark pitchers for .99 and then going to marching band practice. fun.

    jd

    19 Dec 14 at 7:23 pm

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